Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, October 8, 2017

CON REPORT: Monster-Mania 38

As September drew to a close, the time had come once again to journey to Monster-Mania in Hunt Valley, Maryland. This was, somehow, my seventh year visiting this horror convention. By now, it's a yearly tradition. However, I was a little apprehensive about things this year. Not only because I was driving for the first time in a while, as my podcast co-host and ever-true movie pal JD was in the passenger seat. But because of the fiasco last year, where an errant nail and a flat tire conspired to ruin our whole weekend. Luckily, we arrived in Baltimore without incident. Even then, it took a while for me to feel really good about the trip. It wasn't until lunch that day, at a local steakhouse (another tradition), that I truly began to relax.

On the various Monster-Mania social media accounts, show runner Dave Hagan has promised that Monster-Mania 38 would be the convention's biggest Maryland show. The dealer's room had been expanded to two floors, people selling stuff both on the lower level and outside the ballrooms. Yet this development didn't come without some growing pains. Val Kilmer, the big guest lined up for Monster-Mania 38, dropped out a few weeks before his scheduled appearance. According to those who attended Val's previous convention appearances, he is still actively fighting cancer. Even closer to the end of September, Barbara Steele would also drop out. This was especially frustrating for me. Steele was supposed to be at two other shows I previously went too. At this point, I've given up on meeting her at all.

Still, as four o'clock drew closer Friday afternoon, I became excited. In a change from the previous seasons, JD and I would be staying until Sunday at the convention, giving us a chance to really take everything in. The air inside the Hunt Valley Inn smells different than it does, just a state over in my home. As I slipped the weekend pass onto my wrist, I became more excited. By the time I was riding the escalator down to the convention floor, my personal Monster-Mania had begun. Convention fever had overtaken me and I was ready to fanboy out.

Having done a few of these already, I know that Friday is really the day to get signatures from guests. It tends to be the least busy day of the convention. So, after a quick look around the dealer's room, JD and I headed to the ball room where  most of the guests were located. From way back in my first Monster-Mania in 2011, this the same place they've always been. As usual, we started with one of the least intimidating stars. JD and I were unusually excited to meet Curtis Armstrong. “Jingle All the Way” has increasingly become an in-joke between the two of us. Anyone who has seen that flick knows Armstrong – probably best known as Booger from the “Revenge of the Nerds” franchise – played Booster, Turbo-Man's much loathed sidekick in that flick. When we mentioned this fandom to Armstrong, he told us we were “two of five people” to ask him about the film since it came out. That shows Armstrong obvious sense of humor about his career. He was pretty cool and took the time to tell us that he's recently written a book.

Adrienne Barbeau is a regular at horror conventions but, somehow, this was the first chance I've had to meet her. As sometimes happens, I found myself a little nervous. That deluded soon as Barbeau revealed herself as a really sweet, easy to talk to person. I knew, a few years ago, that she wrote a memoir. Apparently, she's also written a couple of novels since then, in the vampire romance genre no less. I have no idea if they're worth reading but it's still sort of neat.

Since Barbara Steele dropped out, the guest I was probably most excited to meet was Wilford Brimley. I mean, that's the kind of oddball guest I never expected to meet at one of these things. Brimley acts exactly like how I imagined he would. He was short-spoken, slightly grouchy, but displaying an obvious sense of humor about himself. He even played along when JD asked him a really stupid question about whether the alien in “The Thing” was real. Brimley's extremely dry response – “It was real in the sense that something was physically there” – got us both laughing.

Also at Monster-Mania 38 was Sharni Vinson, the star of “You're Next.” Vinson has apparently just begun doing conventions. She struck me as a really enthusiastic person. She was yelling compliments to the various cosplayers on the floor and more than happy to strike up conversation with anyone. JD, meanwhile, got a signature from Andrew Divoff, famous for the “Wish Master” films. Divoff was a really well-spoken guy, giving thoughtful answers to questions about the make-up process, why he didn't appear in the later “Wish Master” films (The scripts sucked), and posing for multiple photos.

Out of all the guests we meet, we only had to really wait in line for one. Michael Biehn had about a half-hour line. I had heard rumors that Biehn could be rude but he struck me as a pretty laid back guy. He's very frank about his career's current status, talking about how it might've been a mistake not to take the conventional leading man roles he was offered after “The Terminator.” He was cool with us, giving a surprisingly thought-out answer to JD's goofy question of who would win in a fight between Kyle Reese or Hicks. (Biehn backs Reese, citing how the character has spent his whole life in a war.) Biehn's cool in my book.

At first glance, despite being spread over two floors, the dealer's room seemed a little weaker than usual. Seems like the focus this year was on pricier original art items. Such as someone who specialized in making lightswitch covers and wall art composed of fake flesh, a guy selling gorgeous (but expensive) music box versions of the Hellraiser boxes, or a vendor selling skulls – some of them real – carved into artwork. That's not to say we didn't find some cool stuff. One artist was selling horror artwork in a 1930s cartoon style. I bought some neat stickers from him and commented on a piece of art he was selling, based on the final episode of “Tales from the Crypt.” The guy said I was the first person to recognize it.

Naturally, I bought plenty of toys too. I grabbed a few new releases. Such as the “Alien: Covenant” Neomorph figure from NECA or Diamond Select's new figure of the Taxi Driver Zombie from “Ghostbusters.” That's a character I've always loved and never once thought we'd get a toy of, considering he's on-screen for all of five seconds. An especially neat find was a guy selling custom Lego mini-figs, many of which were of eighties horror characters. I grabbed Jason, Michael Myers, Leatherface, Chucky, Carrie, Chuck Norris for my mom, and RoboCop, just to mix things up.

By far the strangest vendor at the convention this year was a group selling what they claimed to be “human flesh.” The guy was dressed in a butcher's apron, accompanied by some scantily clad female assistants, and stored his cash in an old-timey cash register. Naturally, JD and I couldn't resist grabbing two pieces of this so-called human jerky. A look at the label reveals that it's actually made of pork and veal. Though “human remains” is ominously listed last on the ingredients, in what I hope is a morbid joke. If it isn't, I guess I'm a cannibal now. The jerky was really tender and tasty.

Even with the neat stuff we grabbed, I was still slightly disappointed in the dealer's room. I guess we've been to this convention enough that we've seen many of the vendors before. Yet I did find one amazing surprise. Last year, I grabbed an original “Students Bodies” poster, which gave me a fever for old movie posters. That vendor wasn't around this year. However, I did find a man selling various theater memorabilia. When I asked him if he had one-sheets, he pulled out a milk crate filled with posters. The man said he's been in the theater business since the seventies and, this year, his wife told him to start selling stuff. While going through the pile of posters, I found a dozen or more I wanted. Even with the twenty dollar asking price – extremely reasonable for original one-sheets – I still had to narrow it down to five. I grabbed the posters for “Magic,” “Ghost Story,” “Escape from New York,” “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” and “When a Stranger Calls.” The next day, I went back and got the “Death Wish” poster. Like I said, that represents a small portion of the man's collection. I know for a fact that many of his posters were worth far more than he was selling them for. I really hope he comes back to Monster-Mania next year.

On the second day, JD had an idea. In order to spice up the podcast episode about the convention – which should be out tomorrow – he suggested we get some interviews with cosplayers and vendors. I wasn't so sure about this plan but it ended up being a fun idea. We managed to interview a few cosplayers. Two women were dressed as Billy the Puppet from “Saw” and the brand new Pennywise. They happily chatted with us for a minute. We met a man dressed as Captain Marvel, otherwise known as Shazam. He proceeded to describe, in great detail, his enthusiasm for this character and how much work he put into the costume. I also chatted with one of the guys from the VHS Preservation Society, a dealer I must stop at every Monster-Mania. He gave us a nice interview and, afterwards, I bought “Night Warning” and “Grim Prairie Tales.” Over all, the interviews were a fun way for me to feel a little more connected with my fellow convention goers.

We hit some panels on Saturday afternoon. First up were the Soska Sisters, the directors behind “American Mary” and “Dead Hooker in the Truck.” They gave an incredibly energetic panel, giving lengthy answers to each question. They joked around with each other and the audience. Apparently, both sisters are huge pro-wrestling fans and the panel quickly became devoted to that topic. That lost me a little but it was still a really fun panel.

Afterwards was the Rose McGowan panel. As far as horror convention Q&As go, it was pretty dour. McGowan is obviously extremely passionate about feminism and social justice, devoting much of the panel to these topics. I more-or-less agree with these beliefs and do not doubt that McGowan has dealt with plenty of assholes and abuse during her years in the business. But it clearly brought the mood down a little. One neat tidbit that came out during the panel was that McGowan's directorial debut, “Dawn,” will be coming to the Criterion Collection soon. She also apparently has a book, an album, and an art show all coming soon. So Rose is certainly keeping busy.

For all the years we've been going to Monster-Mania, JD and I have been curious about the costume contest, always held late on Saturday. Since we were staying two days this year, we decided to check it out. The results were underwhelming, to say the least. I guess none of the cool cosplayers stayed through Saturday night. The contest is separated into four categories: Kids, scariest, most original, and sexiest. The kids category was cute but not that memorable. Scariest featured some impressive make-up, such as a guy in a full “Jason Lives” get-up. My favorite was a guy in Freddy Krueger make-up and a suit, calling himself President Freddy. Most original proved forgettable, though the rightful winner was a woman in an impressive Dias de Los Mortos outfit. The sexiest category was truly a wash. One woman wore one of those “Saw” pig masks in her underwear, which represents the general amount of effort most of the contestants put into their costumes. Dave Hagan emceed the event and was visibly as bored as the audience was. We'll be skipping the costume contest next year.

Outside the convention, JD and I ate extremely well this weekend. Even though both of us are attempting to loose weight, we ate whatever we want on these trip. “We're on vacation” is our mantra during these weekend. We've made a tradition, Friday afternoon before the con starts, of heading across the street from the hotel to the Hunt Valley Grille. Both of us always get steak and lobster, price and choleric intake be damned. Also across the street from the hotel is a Weggman's, a massive grocery store. For lunch Saturday, we both got lobster rolls, a local delicacy composed of chunky lobster salad on a crunchy, buttery, and somewhat sweet roll. That night, we went to the near-by Iron Rooster. A local chain specializing in Southern seafood and Maryland crab meat, the Hunt Valley location was new to us. The food there was so delicious that we went back Sunday morning to get breakfast. The Iron Rooster's specialty is what they call a home-made pop-tart. It's better described as a massive, decadent cross between a strudel and a pie, covered in powdered sugar and whipped cream.

By the time Sunday rolled around, JD and I were ready to go home. We hung around Monster-Mania for a bit longer, looking for any good deals. Disappointingly, we only found a few. I grabbed the Blu-Rays of “Burial Grounds” and “Santa Sangre” from the Severin Films booth – which was occupied by nice guys, by the way – and JD grabbed a pillow printed with Marvel superheroes for his young nephew. After that, we called it a weekend and decided to head home. I had a lot of fun at Monster-Mania 38 but, after two nights in a hotel, was ready to sleep in my own bed again. Over all, it was a really fantastic con. If the dealer's room had been slightly better, and the guest list hadn't seen any cancellations, it probably would be my all time favorite experience at a convention. As of now, I'd still rank it pretty highly.

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